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Discarded cell phones fill a basket during an Earth Day recycling event in Washington, D.C.
Discarded cell phones fill a basket during an Earth Day recycling event in Washington, D.C. Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Video: Old Electronics Are a New Gold Mine
Americans are using — and getting rid of — more electronic devices than ever. As technology improves and gets cheaper, old cell phones, computers, iPods and digital cameras end up in desk drawers, basements — or on the curb.
While some of these gizmos are recycled, lots of them still wind up in the garbage. In 2005, the EPA estimated there was about 2.2 million tons of e-waste. And about 80 percent to 85 percent of that ended up in landfills, with the remainder being recycled.
Electronics contain mercury, lead and cadmium, which can harm the environment by leaching into groundwater or into the air through incineration.
Dell and other computer makers have recycling programs — and they're developing products designed to minimize the devices' impact on the environment. And the U.S. Postal Service recently turned mailboxes into recycling bins — helping consumers mail their techno-waste to recycling centers.
New Jersey recently approved a law requiring the recycling of computers and televisions, and 13 additional states are considering laws making manufacturers responsible for electronics recycling.
More consumers are realizing the need to recycle electronics, but it's not easy being green.
There's no national system for recycling, so consumers need to do their research about where to take their items for disposal. But Web sites including myGreenElectronics.org and E-cycling Central offer searchable databases of local recycling centers across the country.
Renee Montagne discusses various e-recycling efforts with technology expert Mario Armstrong.